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King Henry II

English Monarch

Died when: 56 years 123 days (676 months)
Star Sign: Pisces


King Henry II

Henry II (5 March 1133 – 6 July 1189), also known as Henry Curtmantle (French: Court-manteau), Henry FitzEmpress, or Henry Plantagenet, was King of England from 1154 until his death in 1189.

He was the first king of the House of Plantagenet.King Louis VII of France made him Duke of Normandy in 1150.

Henry became Count of Anjou and Maine upon the death of his father, Count Geoffrey V, in 1151.His marriage in 1152 to Eleanor of Aquitaine, whose marriage to Louis VII had recently been annulled, made him Duke of Aquitaine.

He became Count of Nantes by treaty in 1158.Before he was 40 he controlled England, large parts of Wales, the eastern half of Ireland and the western half of France; an area that was later called the Angevin Empire.

At various times, Henry also partially controlled Scotland and the Duchy of Brittany.Henry became actively involved by the age of 14 in the efforts of his mother Matilda, daughter of Henry I of England, to claim the throne of England, then occupied by Stephen of Blois.

Stephen agreed to a peace treaty after Henry's military expedition to England in 1153, and Henry inherited the kingdom on Stephen's death a year later.

Henry was an energetic and ruthless ruler, driven by a desire to restore the lands and privileges of his grandfather Henry I.

During the early years of his reign the younger Henry restored the royal administration in England, re-established hegemony over Wales and gained full control over his lands in Anjou, Maine and Touraine.

Henry's desire to reform the relationship with the Church led to conflict with his former friend Thomas Becket, the Archbishop of Canterbury.

This controversy lasted for much of the 1160s and resulted in Becket's murder in 1170.Henry soon came into conflict with Louis VII, and the two rulers fought what has been termed a "cold war" over several decades.

Henry expanded his empire at Louis's expense, taking Brittany and pushing east into central France and south into Toulouse; despite numerous peace conferences and treaties, no lasting agreement was reached.

Henry and Eleanor had eight children—three daughters and five sons.Three of his sons would be king, though Henry the Young King was named his father's co-ruler rather than a stand-alone king.

As the sons grew up, tensions over the future inheritance of the empire began to emerge, encouraged by Louis and his son King Philip II.

In 1173 Henry's heir apparent, "Young Henry", rebelled in protest; he was joined by his brothers Richard (later king) and Geoffrey and by their mother, Eleanor.

France, Scotland, Brittany, Flanders, and Boulogne allied themselves with the rebels.The Great Revolt was only defeated by Henry's vigorous military action and talented local commanders, many of them "new men" appointed for their loyalty and administrative skills.

Young Henry and Geoffrey revolted again in 1183, resulting in Young Henry's death.The Norman invasion of Ireland provided lands for his youngest son John (later king), but Henry struggled to find ways to satisfy all his sons' desires for land and immediate power.

By 1189, Young Henry and Geoffrey were dead, and Philip successfully played on Richard's fears that Henry II would make John king, leading to a final rebellion.

Decisively defeated by Philip and Richard and suffering from a bleeding ulcer, Henry retreated to Chinon Castle in Anjou.He died soon afterwards and was succeeded by Richard.

Henry's empire quickly collapsed during the reign of his son John (who succeeded Richard, in 1199), but many of the changes Henry introduced during his long rule had long-term consequences.

Henry's legal changes are generally considered to have laid the basis for the English Common Law, while his intervention in Brittany, Wales, and Scotland shaped the development of their societies and governmental systems.

Historical interpretations of Henry's reign have changed considerably over time.Contemporary chroniclers such as Gerald of Wales and William of Newburgh, though sometimes unfavorable, generally lauded his achievements, describing him as "our Alexander of the West" and an "excellent and beneficent prince" respectively.

In the 18th century, scholars argued that Henry was a driving force in the creation of a genuinely English monarchy and, ultimately, a unified Britain with David Hume going so far as to characterize Henry as "the greatest prince of his time for wisdom, virtue, and abilities, and the most powerful in extent of dominion of all those who had ever filled the throne of England".

During the Victorian expansion of the British Empire, historians were keenly interested in the formation of Henry's own empire, but they also expressed concern over his private life and treatment of Becket.

Late 20th-century historians have combined British and French historical accounts of Henry, challenging earlier Anglocentric interpretations of his reign.Nevertheless, Henry has drawn continual interest from academic and popular historians, including Winston Churchill, who described Henry as a great king and the first great English lawgiver, whose reign left a deep mark on English institutions.

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